A systematic review and meta-analysis found limited evidence to support the use of electrical stimulation to treat or prevent delayed-onset muscle soreness and muscle recovery. These findings were published in the Journal of Pain.

Investigators at the Federal University of Sergipe in Brazil and McGill University in Canada searched publication databases through March 2021 for randomized clinical trials or experimental conditions of electrical stimulation for the treatment or prevention of delayed-onset muscle soreness. A total of 14 studies were included in the systematic review and 12 in the meta-analysis.

The pooled study population consisted of 435 patients. The mean age of recipients of active electrical stimulation was 23.08 (standard devotion [SD], 2.94) years, and the mean age of participants in the control group was 22.88 (SD, 2.45) years. The most common intervention was transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS; n=7), followed by microcurrent electrical stimulation (MENS; n=3), interferential current (IFC; n=2), neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES; n=1), and high-voltage pulsed current electrical stimulation (HPVC; n=1). Participants in the control group received placebo or sham treatment.


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For treating pain during motion, the only significant effect was observed from MENS, TENS, and IFC at 96 hours following the intervention (standardized mean difference [SMD], 0.65; 95% CI, 0.08-1.22; P =.02; I2, 0%).

There are no recommendations that support the use of electrical stimulation in delayed-onset muscle soreness and for the recovery of muscle function.

There was support for IFC for peak isometric torque immediately after stimulation (SMD, -0.48; 95% CI, -0.93 to -0.04; P =.03; I2, 0%) and at 24 hours (SMD, -0.83; 95% CI, -1.49 to -0.18; P =.01; I2, 0%).

For pressure pain threshold, TENS and IFC tended to be favored at 24 hours after intervention (SMD, -0.42; 95% CI, -0.83 to 0.00; P =.05; I2, 0%).

No evidence supported electrical stimulation for treating pain intensity at rest, motion at rest, peak eccentric torque, maximum voluntary isometric contraction, or upper limb functional impairment.

In the sensitivity analyses, only the effect of IFC on range of motion at rest (SMD, -0.55; 95% CI, -1.05 to -0.04; P =.03; I2, 0%) and for peak isometric torque (SMD, -0.48; 95% CI, -0.93 to -0.04; P =.03; I2, 0%) remained significant.

A potential limitation of this study was that all but 2 studies recruited untrained adults; therefore, these findings may not be generalizable for athletes.

Study authors concluded, “There are no recommendations that support the use of electrical stimulation in delayed-onset muscle soreness and for the recovery of muscle function.”

This article originally appeared on Clinical Pain Advisor